anxiety, part 2.

Well, this weekend was rough–the end of October is rough. Yesterday would have been my father’s birthday; 64 years old. Last year around this time, I was totally unaffected; I can’t even remember what I did or who I was with but I don’t think that it hit me as much as this year did.

Friday afternoon–I was busy at work helping with the induction ceremony for the Student Council and National Honors Society. And, we went out with some friends after work. I got home, and my high school friend came over for some wine. I was almost falling asleep, and for some reason thought more wine would help. I don’t drink enough to get completely drunk or plastered anymore–and honestly, I believe that I am in denial of my alcohol intolerance as part of my fibro.

Well, late nights and alcohol are not my thing anymore…and for some reason I wanted them to be. I hung out with my friend, but of course I thought I was my old self—pre fibro. This has been the hardest adjustment for me; I want to be the person that I have always been. Fun, happy, and just not having to plan everything out–I just can’t relax and have fun. I have to dial things back, and I am holding on so, so tight.

Saturday night my mom had my aunt, uncle, and cousins over for my brother’s birthday. I held off drinking until after dinner, and didn’t get so wasted…but my anxiety kicked up that was for sure. I said before my anxiety is like knocking on a door, think “The Raven.” Rapping, tapping, and finally just being coming surrounded.

My anxiety tells me that I am not good enough–my anxiety convinces me that everything I do is never enough, never good enough, and people don’t actually like me for who I am. This is really deep seeded for me–when I was in grade school I had a friend that treated me like dirt. I have since been able to forgive that friend, but I still have the aftershocks of what that kind of treatment and behavior has done to me.

When she and I were friends, everything I did seemed to make her angry at me–there was something I would do, and she would stop talking to me. She was manipulative and nasty, because 7th grade girls are nasty. However, this has so been ingrained in my and effected the way that I deal with friends and relationships–that I need to be constantly convince that what I am doing is right. Because, I am afraid and deep down believe that I am not enough in my friend’s eyes.

I judge my friends a lot on the words that they say to make, and take everything pretty personally. This is something that I have done to family, friend, and sometimes in the classroom (if I am being one hundred percent honest with myself). Well, I think this weekend I hit my rock bottom. I missed my dad, I felt like my friends didn’t want to be around me–and I just had a mini-breakdown.

Sunday. I did something totally our of character for myself, and that was lay in bed almost all day. I was worn out from crying, I was tried from not sleeping, not taking care of myself. I needed a break. Thankfully, I didn’t have much to do. I laid, and I slept a little, and I just relaxed. I realized that I had to get up and do something in order to feel like a real person. So, I painted my nails and stretched.

I blame myself for all the bad stuff, when I feel negative, but I always look to someone else to take that blame away. I look for a reason, or something to heave all this heavy shit off of me. Because this isn’t who I am (I tell myself)! I am better that this (I say, not believing a single word)! It is so easy for me to get wrapped up in the bad shit, that I totally forget all the good that I have. I forget how good my friends are to me. I forget how good my family is to me, and how much people love me.

I truly hate feeling this way at times, because I feel so broken and little. I don’t like showing my cracks or faults, because it makes me feel like that is another reason for people to stop being friends with me–like they are my friends because I try to be strong and there for everyone, that when I buckle or stumble…people aren’t going to be there for me. Which I know isn’t true.

It was good, though; because it got all this emotional shit that I have been sitting on out. It isn’t the worst thing in the word to realize, but I know that I am tired of this problem that I have effect my relationships–I want to be able to enjoy my friends and family. I want to be able to not take everything personally, to realize when people are joking with me, and I want to be able to feel confident in who I am.

I am totally done with second guessing the things that I say and do. I am totally done with not making myself feel important, and apologizing for who I am. I am totally done in not believing in myself.

I have to be okay with not being okay sometimes. I have to ask for help when I need it, and I have to stop trying to be perfect all the time. But it’s okay!

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sometimes you have to go down the death trap slide.

So, as the school year is winding down, teaching seniors makes me a little nostalgic about high school. I had a decent high school experience—my high school was great, the teachers were awesome people, and the people that I went to school with were overall pretty nice people. It felt like a family atmosphere. Mostly, because families either knew each other or were related to each other. For example, when I was a senior in high school, I had a cousin in my grade, two cousins in the grade below me, and my brother was a freshman. There were five of us from the same family in high school together. And, we were not the exception.

A few of my students asked me what I was like in high school; and I really didn’t know how to answer the question. I was…normal. I was…like I am now. I was….well, I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t a loser. I was smart, but I wasn’t at the top of my class. I was average. This, my students, did not believe. “You had to be popular, ma’am. Come on!”

I don’t think that I ever cared what my social status in high school was; I was happy where I was.  I wanted normal high school experiences, and I got into a few situations that didn’t reflect the girl that I was then. I was, like to think, the woman that I am today—except I was a little more insecure and I was more of a people pleaser.

I was never a girl to follow trends—I wore what I wanted, watched the shows that I wanted, watched the movies that I wanted. I was an old soul desiring to have an authentic high school experience…but I never really got it. I never had a relationship in high school, and that bothered more than I probably would have admitted back then. And I definitely struggled with embracing who I was, because I wanted to be something different. People liked me for me, but I couldn’t see that. I was so busy worrying about what other people did, and what people thought of me that I never learned to like myself for who I was.

There is one thing that I always look back to when I am fighting with who I am and what I want to be. I have a memory before I was in high school of being at the pool that I work at. It was the end of the summer, the pool was getting ready to close, and the one thing that I wanted to do was jump off the really high lifeguard stand into the pool. So, I did it. I climbed up and dove head first 20 feet into the water. The impact was hard, my back hurt, and I realized that if I hit the water a different way I probably could have been really hurt.

But, I did it. It was amazing, scary, and I felt fearless. This was the girl that I always wanted carry with me…I wanted to dive off a lifeguard stand because I wanted to do it and feel free. Monday and Tuesday, we had a class trip to the Poconos at an indoor water park. There was this intense slide where the bottom dropped out from underneath you—I hate heights, I hate 90 degree angles, and I hate climbing stairs.

Well, I was sitting, relaxing by the pool and the boys talked me into riding the death trap of a slide. I panicked the entire way up the stairs. The boys were like “Ma’am, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be fine. You’re really that afraid of heights?” I never used to be, and I wanted to do this death trap slide because my reputation was on the line. Was I glad that I did it? Kind of, I would never do it again, but I did go on a mountain roller coaster that I would do again. A coaster that you were able steer down the mountain side and it was so cool!

Something I ask myself what happened to that girl that wanted to do things her way; that wasn’t afraid of adversity or pain and wanted to do something for the experience? I think there were a number of things that happened. I probably was made fun of for being different. I was too out there, I didn’t conform to what I “should” have been. And, I wanted to be like everyone else that didn’t stand out. So, what would I say to that girl now?

I would look her in the eye and I would confront her what all those uncomfortable times that made her question who she was and what she wanted. She wanted to be fearless, but instead of being fearless she became ridden with fear. She started caring about what other people thought, she started hanging out with people that didn’t give her what she needed, and she started chasing  things that weren’t good for her. I would remind her of the time she was on top of lifeguard stand and ask her to remember the feeling of falling into the water. The feeling was freedom, the feeling of letting it all go, and the feeling of freedom that you can do anything at all.

I got that feeling on the mountain coaster and the death trap water slide. I remembered what it was like to feel free again and feel like I could do anything. It was awesome. Embracing that side of me made me realize a few things—how much I have grown up, how much I have experienced in my life that is so awesome.

In high school I was able to see Julie Andrews in person, attend a papal mass in New York City, and travel to Italy for 10 days. I have seen the Sistine Chapel, the Roman Colosseum, and the Trevi Fountain. In college, I attended a Phillies World Series Parade, joined a sorority, learned value skills of time management and compassion for others. And, as an adult, I have learned value lessons and skills that I never thought that I would be able to learn. It’s all be such a cool, crazy ride.

Part of that ride includes all the heartbreak and problems that I have had in my life—they make up that map. It’s not something that I want to forget because those things have made me who I am today. Through my dad’s death I have learned how important it is to listen to people and to be there for people regardless of what is going on in our lives. Part of life is helping other, giving of yourself to people, and that was something that my dad always taught me.

One of most valuable lessons that Dad taught me, through his actions, was that regardless of your shit…people have other shit going on, too. And, unless you stop to listen to someone and care about that person…you are never going to learn what is going on. You don’t compare your situations to other people, because it’s going to help anything. Comparison only brings sadness and anxiety, and doesn’t allow you to open yourself up to the people that might need to hear from you.

Dad’s passing highlighted a lot of things for me. I learned who was there to support me because they loved me, and those who supported me because it was something they thought they should do. It made them feel better. That’s fine, because not everyone know who to deal with death. There is not handbook that you get when a parent dies that says, “Hey, you should do x, y, and z to help yourself.” No magic pill, and no magic way to tell people how to treat you. You show people how to treat you. You have to let yourself lean on other, and some will support and others will buckle a little bit. But, that buckle might not be because they don’t love you…it just might mean that they need a little support, too.

This is so, so important to recognize because you are recognizing and appreciating what someone is giving you. But, at the time, of course it feels like your being slighted. Because you expect people to step up, and when they don’t it’s disappointing. But, you have to remember, just because you focus in about your situation 99% of day doesn’t mean that other are going to, or have to. People are busy, people have other lives, people have families. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t love you.

This is all much harder to accept that it sounds. Really hard. Because in the moment, you feel alone and helpless. You feel that people have stopped caring about you, stopped thinking about you, but that’s not true. It’s just that they aren’t thinking of you right now. And, like a lot of things in life, only the people that get it really understand it. They know what it’s like to have your thoughts consumed, to want a break from the world, and to realize that certain bullshit just doesn’t matter.

Two years ago if I had gotten a text from my best friend about someone in our class that either got married or had baby, and ridiculing them for their decisions I would have taken the bait. I would have checked out the post on the Gram or Facebook and made the same comment. But now? Who the eff cares? Bullshit drama at work? Who the eff cares? People making more money that you? Who the eff cares? Someone got fat? Who the eff cares? The people that you see on your timelines and feeds, they are on their own paths. They are doing them, and if it makes them happy to post…who the eff cares? Don’t want to read it? Unfollow or unfriend. Or, instead of making fun of them, how about seeing their happy in the situation?

I came across a post of a girl that I knew in high school, and that I always said was copying my every move in life. She now has her master’s and just got a new job. My first thought was, “Oh my God, she’s trying to be me.” Um, hello? How productive is that? How is that helping me? It’s now. Comparison is evil, and I was succumbing to it.

How much of an ego could I possibly have to think that? Ew. That’s not me; and that never was me until I left my little shelter of growing up and entered the real world. Well, in this world you get to choose the things you care about. You get to choose the people in your story. You don’t like the people? Write them out. But, don’t forget that just because you’re the main character means to get to ignore everyone else.

Yes, I have started saying “Who the eff cares?” about the little things, but the people that you care about in your world and you have been your support system are the big things. And, they go through shit too. Shit that sucks just as much as your shit sucks. People have shitty jobs, shitty relationships, shitty friendships; but if it means something to them it means that you have to listen to them. Even though it doesn’t add up to the shit that you have been through. That’s not their path.

I am thankful that none of my friends have had to lose a parent or even a grandparent. That’s rough shit, but I try to use that experience to make me more compassionate and more patient. My cross might be big, but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s has to be, too. If I can use that experience and help my friends carry their crosses, I consider that a win; because I want the people that have been there for me to know what I will be there for them.

depending on something bigger than myself

I have always had a special place in my heart for the Easter Triduum. I am sure it goes back to when I was altar serving in 8th grade. As an older kid, I was responsible for teaching the younger kids how to serve during the masses. And, when your priest is a nonsense Polish man that loves a high mass—you get everything right.

I remember the only time that I was openly disrespectful for a teacher—it was during on practice for Holy Week. Father would call every single altar server out of class to practice for the Masses during Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Somehow, I was never slated to serve the Easter Vigil. I have never, in my life been to one. My mother won’t go back to one because when she was grade school, she was in the choir and had to stand for 3 hours. She said she remembered deliberately dropping her hymnal so she could bend her knees. So, we always served the 7 am mass on Easter Sunday.

Anyway, my teacher wouldn’t let me and other 8th graders leave for practice, even though we were allowed. I told her that we had to leave, and she got this big attitude (for the record, this woman probably shouldn’t have been a teacher. She was a little nutty) and said that if Father had a problem, he could take it up with her. I snapped back at her and told her that she didn’t teach anything anyway, so what would it matter? Somehow, I didn’t get in trouble and she let us leave.

Holy Thursday was always required more practice than Good Friday. Holy Thursday we had to practice the incense, we had to practice the washing of the feet, the procession around the ENTIRE church during the benediction. It was a big church, and it always seemed to take an hour. We must have ran through the entire mass three or four times, and it must of stuck with me because at every Holy Thursday mass, I remember what we did, when, and I notice if it’s not done at other churches. For instance, during the Gloria—two altar servers go back and forth ringing the bells during the entire hymn. It’s the last time the bells ring during the Triduum. My parish doesn’t do that, I remembered that. I have been to parishes that don’t really do a procession—which I always find odd.

Holy Thursday always required a lot of planning, and it seemed like it was most important mass of the year since we practiced, literally for a week.

Good Friday was always much simpler—not a mass, veneration of the Cross, communion, and that’s it. Cake walk compared to Holy Thursday. However, there was one Good Friday that I thought we were going to be a man down. We had a very old monsignor—he must have been almost 90. My pastor had directly told him, when we prostrate do not lay down. So, when we processed in, our three other priests prostrated on the ground and one altar server tugged at my sleeve. I looked around, and there was the old Monsignor laying on the ground.

I went into the panic. What are we going to do? Is he going to be okay? Are we going to be able to get him up? Well, that’s exactly what we had to do. We literally had to hoist him up off the ground, and he just started laughing. I mean, it was amazing that he still wanted to do that, but it was definitely not practical.

So, I have always loved the ceremony behind the masses—I think they are beautiful and deeply meaningful to Catholics during this time. But, I have not always had the sense of connection and love for this time.

Before I started working at my school now, I was a substitute teacher in my Catholic school system. Looking back on those days, they were some of the most trying times in my life. My anxiety was a lot higher, I was really trying to figure out who I was, and looking back at it now it was a lot of growing pains.

I experienced a lot of failures at a particular school that I worked out. I was having trouble figuring out what kind of teacher that I wanted to be, I was struggling with who I was professionally and personally—there was this separation of it all, I think, and I just wanted my life to be different. This was all over a period of three years. I worked at this school for about six months, but in that six months—I gained something that I hadn’t gained in other places. I felt, in a way that I belonged—I liked the community and I really thought it was what God has planned for me. But, when we plan, God laughs.

So, after my six month stint, I kept going back to this school—I started helping a friend of mine in her office, because I was unemployed (This was the spring before I was hired at my full time job), and I needed something to do. Thankfully, that panned into a per diem job. But, then my grandmother died. Another shock to my system. I didn’t have a job, and I lost one of the closest people in my life. How could it get worse?

Oh, wait it did!

There was a guy that I worked with that I ended up really liking—he was everything that I thought that I wanted. Catholic, loved his job, and just was a great person. After months, maybe a year of interpreting and misinterpreting signs I told him how I felt. I actually believed that the feelings were reciprocal—and a lot of other people did, too. This was something that I never did before, and to do it took a lot of balls.

Part of my wanted to finally have an answer, and another part of my wanted to stop feeling like I was crazy or unhinged. So, I told him. However, the feeling was not reciprocal, and looking back on it—all the anger that harbored toward him was actually anger that I had toward myself. I was angry that I thought that I looked foolish—and put myself out there. Understandably, my ego was hurt. And, I thought that my life was spinning out of control.

I was unlucky in love, unlucky in my job, and I had lost my grandmother—I could and thought about giving up. But, I didn’t. This time was different, I prayed harder than I even could have in my life and tried to make peace with everything that had happened to me.

But, too this day, I am working on this. I still have bouts of self-doubt and jealousy of all those people that I worked with. After I left that place, it was like my connection to them was completely severed. Everything that I had done, and everything that I given of myself was just left there in a weird limbo and I hated it. I hated myself for being upset and scared, this was not who I was working to be and not who I wanted to be.

When you are hurt by someone and something that deeply, it is really hard to get over. But, guess what? It’s all going to be okay. Because, at the end of the day I still have my family and friends that still love me and still support me. I know the people that are supposed to be in my life. My friend Judy once told me about “reasons, seasons, and lifetimes.” There are people that are in your life for a reason, season, or a lifetime. But you don’t realize when or for what at the moment. I think now, those people that I used to work with were a season—they were there to teach me something about myself that would eventually make me stronger.

Learning how to deal with heartache and disappointment, but also being able to rely on God are what helped me through the death of my father. Something that rocked my world to the core, I was able to remember that I am that I need to lean close to God, not against Him. It was something that I learned to go through all that when I worked at the school, but in terms of what I have gone through now…it’s a blip. But, it was blip that made me learn.

So, this Holy Thursday—I actually went to my home parish for the first time. I was in so much pain from the fibro that kneeling and standing were taking such a toll on me—but, I persisted. I was thinking about how Holy Thursday has carried such an anxiety and disappointment for me that it was hard to focus on anything but that. But, I think that was what I was supposed to do.

I focused on the difficult things. The things that made me cry, the things that broke my heart, the things that had made me feel so small and so insignificant. I broke myself in front of God, because I wasn’t afraid anymore of my brokenness or of what was thought of me. I knew who I am in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the people that matter the most to me.

When Father took the Blessed Sacrament around the church, I had this heaviness of my heart. From everything that I was worried about, and once he walk by me…my heart felt light. As soon as he walked to the Repository and placed the Blessed Sacrament inside…my heart was light. Jesus had taken my suffering from me, and held with him until the next day—where that suffering would be shown on the Cross.

God never give us anything that we can’t handle in our lives. He doesn’t test us, nor does he enjoy watching us suffer. However, in times of struggle, we lean on God for what was cannot get from other people. There is a safety net about God; that can handle things that we cannot. And, being able to rely on Him during times of struggle has been something that I have needed in my life. It was powerful, moving, and I just felt like I could sing. I finally felt at peace, and it was the best feeling in the world.

getting over the hump.

Well, blogging has not been my strong suit for the last few weeks. I had this idea of blogging during Lent, and now it’s almost Easter. Good intentions…good intentions. For what it is worth, I only seem to want to blog when I can’t keep my head quiet. Recently, my head has been filled with theoretical theories and comparative education–so, other thoughts have been pretty non-existent.

But, today I did something for the first time in 15 years…I got on a bike. I know, this is like meaningless to some people, but the amount of physical and mental fear that I had about getting on a bike has been inappropriate for someone my age. Yesterday, inspired by the beautiful weather, I decided to get outside and exercise. I even had it in my head that I was going to run.

Before fibro, I was getting into running. I had run two 5ks before the summer, and I was really proud of myself. But, after school let out, my body started showing symptoms, and it was really not into working out over the summer. Since it is supposed to be nice in the Philly region for the next few days, I was hoping to do something different.

So, I ran. Walk/jogged actually for about 2.25 miles. Hey! It’s a start. And after work this afternoon, I thought it would be a good idea to get out again. So, I went home changed and headed back out. Today was definitely harder. I walked a quarter of a mile, and then ran another, but my body was just telling me to slow it down. I got through the first mile and a quarter and I decided that I wanted to do something different.

The farm park has these bikes that you can rent, free for under 2 hours. So, I said what the hell. First, it took my ten minutes to try and figure out how to unlock the damn thing. That was a production. Second, I got on and my body immediate seized up, and I almost fell. Then I laughed and thought “It’s not like riding a bike, people forgot.” Cue an existential crisis about actually wondering if someone can forget how to ride a bike, and you have my afternoon. After I calmed myself down, I tried it again. And, got myself going. Until I tried to turn, yet another panicked moment , even greater than the last.

In case you are wondering, when I was in 5th grade, I once broke my elbow when I was 11 falling of a bike. I went down a hill too fast, when over a bump, slowed down too suddenly, and just toppled over. To make matters worse, my parents didn’t think that my elbow was broke (not sure how because I couldn’t move it at all), and I walked around for 10 days and practiced and played a softball game with a broken elbow. I remind my mother of this, constantly. During softball practice, she was yelling at me to get my glove all the way down (couldn’t because I was in searing pain), and my coach had to tell her to take my to the doctors. She, of course, blames her mother because my mother said that Mommom would have done the same thing to her. Right. Logic.

I actually blame my father more than my mother, because I am pretty sure out of fear my Dad convinced Mom that it was just bruised because this was during his watch, and she was probably afraid of the wrath of my Mom. My father was the parent that let me pull out my own tooth when it was loose. Mom did not enjoy this. He also used to take me and the dog on midnight walks and to Giant (because where else can you go grocery shopping at midnight).

Anyway, fear and anxiety were at record levels–all because of a bike. But, once I got going, it was awesome. And, I remembered why I used to ride my bike all the time–until they inevitably got stolen. It felt so freeing riding around and enjoying the outside. I was able to move and go about, slowly at time, but I did it. The hardest parts came at the hills. Holy crap, I almost walked them. At one point, I was like I am just going to stay here forever and never go home. This is my home now. I am bike girl and I will make a fort. Dramatic, yes. But, I haven’t pushed myself like that in years. Then I accidentally switched gears.

Almost fell off and had a heart attack simultaneously. However, I got to the top of the hill, and took a break. The only think I could think of was how GOOD I felt. It was like I hit a new high, like I climbed Mount Everest. And if you saw this slight incline, you would definitely know how dramatic I am being at this very moment. But, I freaking did it. I conquered a fear and kicked my ass a little doing it.

Mondays, am I right?

The Release Project: Pride

Much of my life has been spent in self-reflection. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the person that I want to become, a lot of time figuring out what I am meant to be, and what I want to stand for. Not bad things, right? Well, yes and no. There is nothing wrong with self-reflection and knowing how to read the room. There is nothing wrong with figuring out what you stand for and making sure that is in alignment with what is true in your heart.

The problem comes when you focus too much on defining yourself, that you forget yourself. That you think that you are better than the past life experiences that you have had and have subsequently shaped you. That you negate anything and everything the people closest to you, and really know you have said and want for you. When you become something you are not, because it’s going to please the general public, isn’t authentic and you have lost the point of self-reflection.

For much of my formative years, I was always trying to be like someone because, at that time in my life, I felt that being someone else would be better than being myself. In high school, I struggled with my relationship with my mother. I thought that I would have an easier time to be like my brother who, by his own nature, is much more cynical, practical, and critical. I subconsciously saw how easy it was for my mom and my brother to get along, that I thought if I did that, I would too.

I was so, so, so, so, (times infinity) wrong. I just came across as angry, critical, uncaring, cold, and even though I tried to be something that I wasn’t, I was still sensitive and emotional. So, I was quick tempered, snarky, and just really a bitch. I couldn’t see how I was acting, and didn’t seem to care about what people thought. But, I remember when my grandmother said something to me, “Uncle Kevin thinks you’re being too critical.” Whaaaaaa? Me, of all people? How could he say that? See, I even got mad when someone pointed out a part of myself, that wasn’t myself, and something I knew I needed to change. If that isn’t prideful…

My second really significant phase came when I was senior in high school. I read Virginia Woolf once, and suddenly I was this tragic, romantic figure. Granted, I love Woolf’s writing, but the woman had some demons that she was working on. I felt like I craved for that kind of tragedy in my life, I wanted a place of deep hurt that would give me a reason to act a certain way. Seriously, what the eff was wrong with me? No wonder why my brother always thought I was crazy. I am sure at times it was like living with Eve from Three Faces of Eve.

But, I was yearning for a sense of belonging, because I felt like I was on the outskirts of life. A kid recently just said to me at school, “Ma’am, you must have been really popular, one of the cool kids in high school. You just seem like you would be cool.” I laughed in the kid’s face. I did not divulge to that child that most of my freshmen year was spent watching old movies in my room and crying because I didn’t have any friends. Hey, the kid things I’m cool, I didn’t want to mess up my image. But, if someone has said that to me in high school, I would have ran with it. I would have had this false optimism in my life that people liked me, or at least felt sorry for me.

Because of this sense of belonging, I mad friends that I shouldn’t have. Now, deep down, I am sure that they are both leading really fulfilling lives and making the best of what they have. But, at the time, we were three lost souls that happened to find each other. Our relationship wasn’t meant to last through high school. We got into trouble, we made mistakes, and I did things that are not part of the person that I am now. All three of us were looking to belong, but the other two were looking to belong to something bigger than what we had.

 

Senior year, I also met my friend and mentor, Judy. She was my principal at the time, and is responsible for endlessly trying to get my train back on the tracks. So, of course when she started noticing changes, she said something. She mentored me, she gave me examples of the person to be, how to be with people, and how to care for people. She has been telling me for years that I don’t have to define myself by other people’s standards. Sometimes I listened, and sometimes I decided to go my own path. But, I never really grasped her message—I have to admit that this still happens from time to time.

 

In college, I joined a sorority—but never really felt like a typical sorority girl, so that didn’t stick. But, I drank and I partied—nothing ever to hurt my future; but I did put myself into dangerous situations. Looking back, I probably drank because I was still feeling lost and going to parties gave me something that I felt like I needed at the time. I put myself into situations that I thought would make me feel better, but they never did. They just usually made me feel worse, and this was a pattern that continued.

 

I grew angry and rejected everything that I knew growing up. I rejected family, because I thought that I knew better about myself than they did. I thought that I didn’t fit in with them, that I didn’t belong to them, and it has been a repeated struggle for me. I rejected my faith because I thought that God wasn’t giving me the answers that I wanted. God just kept giving me struggles, he kept giving me things that I didn’t want to handle. At the time, I thought I had put so much faith in him, but He never gave anything back to me. Never in a million years did I ever think the answer to my questions and problems was to humble myself to His Will, instead of trying to fight against it.

 

This periodic up and downs in my life have been sporadic, and each time I seem to go through the same problem. I am trying to live up to expectations that don’t exist. I am trying to live up to expectations that I created for myself, because it was a time when I was not being true to myself. The plan that God has for me was not the one that I was following, and it has been hard to navigate the paths of life because of rollercoaster I was riding one was slowly trying to through me off.

 

When my father died, and being diagnosed, I had to stop and think about what was right for me. I had to think about what was a priority in my life, what were some things that needed to be taken out of my life. I had to rethink life with fibro, and adjust. I had to focus on myself and what was going to add to my life. Well, then I started thinking—who am I? I had tried to define myself in all these ways, but I never actually figured out who I really was.

 

I started an odd healing process during my time spent in graduate school—I was doing something that I loved. I was learning, I was exploring, I was asking questions, and I was learning about things and topics that were of interest to me. So, now I was doing something that I loved, I started to focus on love. My faith was strong already, but it got better. I felt like I was having an authentic relationship with God because I was listening to Him, not simply asking him of things. I was trying to put difficult situations into His perspective; trying to figure out what God was trying to tell me.

 

My relationships with people got better because I was focusing on being me, and not what they wanted me to be. Life with fibro has meant, expressing myself truly and honestly—and if people can’t accept that, then I can’t make them like me. I learned that listening to people, is better than just talking and talking and talking. The most important thing that I learned was not letting someone else or something else to define you—regardless of what others tell you are made in the image and likeness of God. So, be forgiving of others, especially of yourself.

The Release Project: One Year

Today is a hard day—regardless of how well my day does, it is going to be a hard today, a year ago my father passed away. I cannot believe it’s a full year; there were months when the 7th came up and I thought, “Wow, 4 months.” I couldn’t imagine how I would feel when a year came around. Well, not I am here and I am okay. But, it’s hard. Thank God that I am on Spring Break, because I don’t think I have the headspace to be able to give myself of the kids—and that’s okay. Both my mother and my aunt took a day off from work.

We, along with my mother’s brother, went to mass this morning. 8 am mass, quick and painless. But, I remembered sitting at mass days after my father died, and even up before that. Mom and I would go to mass before we would head to the hospital to see Dad. So, Uncle Kevin and I took up the gifts, and it was nice to be in a safe place to start my day. I felt my Dad there, not that I don’t with most things that I do, honestly. But, I especially found him during the “Our Father.” Mom and I were standing next to each other, and there was another woman down at the end of the pew. She was older, I have seen in her church before. But, without warning, she came over and held my mother’s hand.

Which, most would think is a sweet gesture, but you don’t know my mother. She loves her space, she loves her bubble, so a woman that she didn’t know grabbing her hand during prayer freaked her out. Seriously, you would have thought she was sitting next to a serial killer. I laughed, Father laughed from the altar, and I leaned in and said, “That’s Dad. Teasing you.” It made my mom laugh. Which, on a day like this, was a welcome relief.

I think until I start to lose my mind, I will replay the days that my father went into the hospital every single day. I will think of the people, of the support, and of the love that was shown to our family. It was, simply, amazing and awe-inspiring. It was such a testament to my dad and how he lived his life—he would have been humbled. It helps when I remember those days when Dad got worse, and it makes it easier to heal.

I went to working not realizing anything. I went to class that night thinking that he was okay. I came from class and realized that it was quiet. Tommy was sitting at the kitchen table, Matthew was sitting in the family room. Matthew tells me from the kitchen, “Kate, dad was in the hospital.” So, my first instinct was to say, “Dad, why were you in the hospital.” Tommy responds, “He’s still there. Dad has a stroke.” Pause. A long pause. What was going on? What happened? A stroke, what does that mean? Is he going to be okay? Small stroke? What’s the difference anyway?

I ran up to my mother’s bedroom and asked her if it was true. My emotions ranged from angry, pissed, sad, confused, concerned. I didn’t know what to say, or what to do. Why didn’t anyone call me? “What would you have done, just sat around and waited?” I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what to do. I texted, I called, I sat and I thank. I was told that he was going to be okay, but something in my stomach told me that I need to start preparing myself for something more.

I didn’t know what to expect from this whole thing. I was told at the time, and we all firmly believed that Dad was going to be okay. I mean, people have strokes all the time. Tuesday came and went, I went to see him and he said that he was going to be okay. He knew that I was worried. One thing that I miss about my Dad was that he knew what was bothering me before I even had to say anything—he always knew when I was upset or angry. And, he offered a word of practical wisdom and comfort. This time, he just said, “It’s okay, Kate.” His speech was slurred, he was pissed that he was in the hospital, and he wasn’t hungry. I was so afraid to leave him.

That day he was supposed to get an ECHO and a CAT scan. Before I left, he had the ECHO, but no CAT scan. Wednesday morning I was getting ready for work, and the phone rang. My dad fell, and he still didn’t have the CAT scan. I went to work, but something felt off. It didn’t feel right. I was at work for a little bit of the morning, and then I decided to leave. I had to get out of there. I went straight to the hospital, and my father still didn’t have the CAT scan. Finally, after I stopped home and got changed, my father went in for CAT scan. We waited for what felt like 6 hours, when finally, the doctor came back. My father had had a stroke, but it wasn’t a normal stroke. It was a brain stem stroke. His neurologist explained that two of his arteries were not pumping blood to his brain, and that he kept having a series of strokes.

It didn’t sound good, and the options that he was given were not great. Whatever option he was given, seemed to end up with his as a vegetable or he would die. My father decided, before he know this all happened, that he would operate if needed. It seemed like the best options; the last that I saw my father, my real father was when they were wheeling him out. He was making jokes with the nurses and the transport service, but he was scared. I never saw my Dad scared of anything—but this I could feel. I was scared, too.

So, he had the surgery that was going to unblock his arteries, which was surprisingly very short. It seemed like it should have taken more time. But, when you are in a situation like this, you are constantly in a time warp. You have no idea which end is up, and you are focused on being there for your family. So, Dad made it out of the surgery, and had oxygen—but he wouldn’t keep the mask on. Which greatly frustrated his nurses. I don’t know what the protocol for patients after surgery, but my dad badly wanted to talk to us and see how we were doing. That was my Dad; amid facing a life or death situation, Dad was worried about us.

Dad struggled and, true to form, did not listen to the nurses. He had to be restrained and intubated. My father was incredibly stubborn—which was both a positive and negative quality in his life. It meant that he had the courage of his convictions, but it also meant that he never backed down from a fight and would never compromise on certain things. It was a quality that I admired about my dad, when it was in a positive light. However, he was picking the wrong time to be stubborn. He wanted to talk and be with us, but he wouldn’t take care of himself.

So, he had to be sedated in order to be intubated (which, for the record, I kept calling incubated…ugh, Dad would have laughed at that one). However, apparently, the sedation wasn’t enough for my dad, and he woke up and extubated himself. Yes, my father pulled the intubation tube out of this throat. Now, not even havening being intubated in my life, I told my friend Linda, who had a heart transplant and no stranger to intubation, she was shocked. I could tell from her words that this was not a smart decision, and how much that probably hurt my dad. *Sigh* That’s my Dad.

So, that had to sedate my father again, this time…my father would not wake up from the sedation. Between his blood pressure, which ironically was keeping him alive at this point (his blood pressure was so freaking high, and he never wanted to take anything for it *insert eye roll emjoi*) and the fact that he keep having a series of strokes, nothing looked good. In fact, at this point he was most definitely going to die.

Now, at this point, my mother and I have been at the hospital for in an out of week—people kept coming in and out, it didn’t seem like anyone was going to work, but there was always someone there with us. That Saturday, the Saturday before he died, I was getting a little stir crazy at this point—the cousins and my aunt’s and uncle’s were steadily filtering in and out of house, so when Saturday came around, we figured we would all hang out together. I decided that I wanted to go to mass. St. Patrick’s was also having 40 Hours, so if I could get to confession, adoration, and mass all in one shot that would have been amazing.

So, I went, hoping that no one would join me. And, I sat and prayed. I prayed for my father; that he would be released from his pain however it was in God’s Will. I wanted to understand, I wanted to be happy that my father wasn’t going to suffer any longer, but I couldn’t. This was my dad. I, at that point, was 26—I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I didn’t expect to lose my parents until they were in the 90s, not when my dad was barely in his 60s. That selfish part of me took over. I was angry, I wanted answers, I wanted to believe that this was how it was meant to be but I couldn’t.

I went to confession and it was the most honest confessions that I have ever had in my life. As an adult, I have always viewed confession as a sort of therapy; you tell the priest was is bothering you and hurting you because it is taking away from the person that God wants you to be. The only time I had a priest not understand that was when a priest told me that I should see a therapist—wow, thanks, Father.

But, not my priest. I told him how angry was I was with God, and I explained that I am trying to see this in the better light. But, I can’t. That my father was dying and I was sad. I was so sad. He would be missing so much. He wouldn’t be there to walk me down the aisle, meet his grandchildren, see my brother graduate high school. There is so much that he would be missing, and I was mad.

I told him about losing my grandmother, and how much my faith was rocked when I was college. How I walked away, how I shut out God from my life because I couldn’t understand why He would take someone from me. Part of me expected to hear “Go to a therapist, talk to someone.” But, Father and I had a conversation. He told me that I am allowed to be mad at God, right now because it’s expected. I can be mad because I am hurting, but He knows that I will find my was back to him when I was ready. I didn’t want to lose my faith again, because I have seen the amazing things that faith does for people. What it has done for my grandmother and my mother. That maintaining a close relationship with God helps us overcome difficult times in our lives.

I left confession feeling like a deflated balloon. Not because I thought it didn’t help me, but because I just felt exhausted from pouring my heart out. When mass started, I started to cry and I cried until mass was done. It was a release, it was grieving, it was time that I had to myself to process my dad’s death. After mass friends of my dad and people we know at church came over to talk to me, and I lost it again. I barely knew these people, but I couldn’t help be tell them everything that was happening.

God must have heard my prayer that afternoon, because from that moment on I relied on God more than I ever had before. In the time after my father’s death, I went to mass every morning. I put my brother on the bus, and went to mass. I felt comfortable and safe. God had seen me at my worst, but was helping me heal and get through those long and hard days.

My mother always told me what faith was got our family through, and now I know exactly what she is talking about. I don’t like my family or friends see me break down, I never let them see me cry. Which, was part of the reason why my family thought that I was internalizing my father’s death. To an extent, I probably was, and still maybe. But, I really can’t tell. My father’s death was certain traumatic for me and my family—to be dealing with this unexpected situation is never easy.

My friends thought that I had PTSD, which I thought, and still think, is ridiculous. I work with Veterans who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. THAT is traumatic—losing a parent is awful, but I don’t think the situations are comparable. But, then again, why does it even have to be compared? Trauma and sorrow are different for everyone; it doesn’t matter what the situation is.   It goes back to the Lenten reflections that we don’t know what another person was asked to walk through.

Which, might be why people think I downplay my dad’s death. And, I don’t at all, with my family and my friends. They know what I am hurting, they know what this has been a hard year, and they know what when I need them they will be there. But, I also don’t know what other people are asked to walk through. Every situation, every loss, every hard time, is a burden for someone. Which sounds very vague, but that is because what someone goes through is a personal part of their lives. It is a part that we might feel comfortable showing everyone, but only want to show those who are really close to us.

I think that this comes from my dad—empathy, and being there for someone when it counts. Dad was, at times, not much of a talker, but that is because I have learned that my father demonstrated by actions, rather than words. There was never a lecture on how to treat people in your life or what it means to be a good person, but Dad simply lived it. I think that it was more important to Dad for us to see him doing things for other people and be a living proof of these qualities that he wanted us to have. Not because he wanted to be put on a pedestal, but he wanted to see his children to become good people and care about those around him.

Aside from being humble, Dad was also very generous. He showed us that to give up your time for other people can be the greatest gift that you could give someone. When my father was able to do something for another person, he always did it. Whether it was fixing up a kitchen or painting, my dad would be there to help out. He never asked for any praise or acknowledgement, but whenever he would make someone else’s life a little easier he would do it. These acts that Dad did showed us how important it is to give of yourself to other people because it is what you do for the people that you love.

The best quality that Dad showed to us was unconditional love. My dad was always proud of his children, and our parents always trusted us to make the decisions that were right for us. He never tried to persuade us into anything that we could not put our full passion into—he wanted us to love what we did. For me, it is hard to explain how Dad showed us unconditional love, because it was something that was just part of him as a father. Regardless of what we did in our lives or how many times my brothers and I riddled him with pointless, hard to answer questions, he showed us that as long as we were doing what we loved with the people that we loved, not much else in the world mattered.

I am going to miss the nights that I sat with at the kitchen table with Dad and pestering him while he watched “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”. It was at that table that I learned the important values that he wanted to teach us kids. He showed me, but not necessarily told me, that to do things in love is the most important things you can do in your life. He taught me that although it might not always be reciprocated or acknowledged, but the love that you put out will always finds a way back to you.

In our faith, we are taught that love conquers all things, even death itself. While we mourn my Dad’s death, his love for my mother, for my brothers and me, and the rest of his family is a gentle reminder that we will always carry him and his memory with us in our lives forever.

The Release Project: Be Gentle

Yesterday was a good day. Yesterday I watched my goddaughter get baptized in the Catholic Church. When my cousin asked me to be the godmother to Viviane, I was a little bit shocked. I mean, Carolyn and I have always been close, but I thought of a dozen other people that I thought would make a better godmother than myself. I mean, here I am just going about my business—why do I get this great honor? To be a witness to such a great gift, a great experience, and I get to be a part of it all. I was, and still am, humbled. It was so beautiful being able to be a witness to my goddaughter; and promise to help her grown in the love and presence of God.

I realized that this weekend I missed blogging. I could come up with excuses as to why I didn’t get around to it, but the truth is that I was feeling lazy. I would think of things to write, but I was just feeling uninspired. Part of it was I started Spring Break at school, and I was just enjoying the fact that I was getting a much-needed break. But, I was also thinking of other things—money, the baptism, and so many things that caused me unnecessary anxiety.

During Lent I get these emails from Dynamic Catholic for a series called Best Lent Ever.  They are daily emails that have a video and reflections for that day during Lent. I loved getting them last year, but I have fallen behind on the videos—I am consistent with being inconsistent. So, this afternoon after I did yoga I caught up on the series. I actively tried to take notes and listen to what was being said in the videos. This past weekend, and maybe longer than that, I have been in a funk. I just felt like something was on my spirit, and when I get like that it’s pretty hard for me to bounce back, at least spiritually.

I was going through the reflections, and was noticing a pattern. It’s all about happiness and allowing yourself to stop resisting happiness in your life and that happiness that God wants for you. I wrote about things that make me happy—being present in the moment, practicing yoga, and prayer. I listed things that make me unhappy—comparison, insecurity, and judgment. As I listened to Matthew Kelly explain that we have this void that only God can fill, and we often seek things that to not bring us closer to God because we are lost and the things seek out are not big enough to fill God’s place.

The reflection for today really spoke to me. It was titled “Life is Messy.” Isn’t that the truth—I mean, I always seem to have this part of my life where I feel on top of the world, but then I get drawn into this negativity and this passivity that adds nothing to my life. I don’t feel happy, I feel overwhelmed, my attitude changes, and I know that I am not being true to who I am and what God wants for me.

I woke up today sore—I almost didn’t want to get out of bed. Saturday night we were out late, and I had a little too much wine. So, Sunday morning was rough in the beginning—but since coming to grips with fibro, any night like that will set me back a few days. But, I was just feeling blah. I didn’t want to try for anything, I just want to lay in bed all day. But, something in my head refused to let that feeling take over, and I got up. I went to Rite Aid to get my meds, came home, threw out some old products in my drawers, and decided that I was going to do something yoga.

I felt like I need something gentle. I follow Yoga with Adriene on YouTube—she is great! Bubbly, happy, and her practice is all about finding what feels goods. So, you don’t have the worry about staring at her making sure your pose is exactly like hers. At the beginning of the year she started this Revolution series—where you practice taking care of yourself and learning to move through love and gratitude on the mat—in hopes that it will transfer off the mat. The first day of the series—Practice Ease. Sign me up.

This was a little more fast paced than Yin, but it was not Vinyasa. Yin is good for days where you might be having a little flare or are feeling stiff, but want to do something to make you feel better. Yin really clears my headspace when I am fight fibro fog. But, this was easy. The movements were more about finding and creating space in the body to make room in the future. It was a little challenging, and I did break a sweat; but I feel so much better about after done something that I always promise myself to do…but never actually end of doing.

I did some of the reflections after yoga, and like a stared previously, the reflection for today was perfectly in line with the yoga practice I did. The focus was on being gentle with yourself and with other because you never know what someone else is carrying on their shoulders. Something just clicked in my mind about this was a day to be gentle to myself. I take my medications, I make sure to pray, do some sort of movement with the body, say no to things that don’t serve you, and do things that you really enjoy.

While it still might be difficult to move around and focusing on tasks, I know that if I move with gentleness and ease, it will make the day better for me. Focusing on the steps to getting there instead of worrying about the final destination helps me keep myself in check, and be gentle with myself.